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September 2016

Ditch the Baffle Gab!

Sep 26, 2016 12:33 PM
Bruce Hunter

“It is our job to competently maintain high quality intellectual capital, while continuing to continually facilitate progressive meta- services!”

“Our challenge is to assertively network economically sound methods of empowerment so that we may continually negotiate performance based infrastructure.”

You probably reacted to these statements the same way that the employee population of these two respective companies did.  Whoa!  I’m willing to bet that we’ve all been exposed to this type of baffle-gab.  And yet, at least one person (and most likely several) thought these statements were abundantly clear.

Reading the Globe and Mail the other day, I found an interview which suggested an interesting experiment.  Take your company’s Vision, Mission, Statement of Values and if you’ve got one, a Statement of Purpose and cover up the titles.  Can you or your employees identify which is which?  Most can’t which of course just underscores how well the communication will perform once it hits your corporate stage.

Great communication is short, simple, pragmatic and connects to the heart, not the head.  It’s for that reason that I speak of a “Destination” rather than a vision.  Here’s a short story to underscore the power of a Destination statement.

Ian, (name changed) had recently bought into a company and became its CEO, soon to be owner.  Believing in the power of collaboration, he brought together the employees so that he could share his vision and mission for the company and get their input.  Following his presentation, conversation commenced with several individuals taking part.  Five minutes into the discussion a hand went up from the back of the room.

“Yes?” queried Ian.  An individual who worked on the manufacturing line, stood up and addressed Ian and the rest of the employees.

“I don’t know about your Vision …but I’ve got one myself!” he exclaimed.  “Looking at the state of the facilities,  it’s to help get this business big enough so we can move out!”  And with that, he sat down. 

  To Ian’s credit, he listened. “Does anyone else feel the same?”  One by one, the hands went up.  “Here is an opportunity!” thought Ian.  I’ll fast forward the story.  Ian replaced the vision he had created and took the statement, “Big enough to move.” as a replacement.  Once that was determined, he had the rest of the team work on exactly what that meant, what needed to be done to achieve that goal and lastly, how they would measure whether they were making progress.  Brilliant!

The Destination was succinct, motivating and abundantly clear to every employee.
It spoke to the heart, not the head.
It laid out the specific actions and measured their progress. 

In their seminal work on effective communication, “Made to Stick”, Chip and Dan Heath reinforce the importance of clarity and simplicity using a concept taken from the U.S. army called “Commander’s Intent”.

“CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired intent of the operation.  No plan survives contact with the enemy.  And in business, no plan survives contact with the customer.  It’s hard to make ideas stick in noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environments.  It’s got to be simple…the core of the idea.  The tough part is weeding out ideas that may be really important, but just aren’t the most important.  That’s the challenge of creating a really powerful destination statement.  Finding the most important idea.

Herb Kelleher (the longest-serving CEO of Southwest Airlines) once told someone, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds.  This is it:  We are THE low-fare airline.  Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can.   That’s his Commander’s Intent or Destination Statement.”

What’s yours?


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